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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Mika Song

It's so much fun when a character you enjoyed comes back in a sequel. Oliver, in Tea for Oliver, is back! And so is his delightful author/illustrator, Mika Song. She's returned to share a bit about what she learned in making a sequel, working with authors, and conducting author visits.

For some basic information on Mika, see our earlier interview (here).

Welcome back Mika! I'm so exciting that your second book as author/illustrator, Picnic with Oliver, released July 3rd!

Thanks for having me back! I just read our last interview together and I’m excited to say I think I’ve learned and grown some this year.

I'm excited to hear how this year has gone and what you've learned. Did the process of creating and publishing Picnic with Oliver differ from that of Tea with Oliver? How?

Yes. I collaborated more with my editor on the plot from the beginning. We started working on it with only the characters and the idea of them going on a picnic together. I proposed a lot of plot lines that were rejected until we arrived at one together. With my first book, Tea with Oliver the story only had minor adjustments by the time I was working with my editor.

After seeing my first book (Tea with Oliver) out in the world I decided the new book had to have more vibrant colors. After doing read-alouds I noticed what story elements worked in the first book that I wanted to use again. I really enjoy taking the book around, so I want it to work for one-on-one and group settings.

So, in some ways, it seems more complex to write a sequel. If you could share one thing with your younger self and/or kids today what would that be?

Be patient but keep at it.

Patience is so hard! What was the toughest part of either writing and/or illustrating a picture book sequel?

It’s harder just because you want to do better than the last book. In some ways, it’s much easier because hopefully you learned from your mistakes last time. For example, I made sure not to include another wild cat party in this one because keeping all those side characters straight over many pages was not easy for me. I kept mixing up their outfits and had to revise a lot of drawings as a result.

Interesting. I can definitely see multiple characters causing trouble with consistency. Is there something you want your readers to know about Picnic with Oliver?

Picnic with Oliver was inspired by Prospect Park in Brooklyn. I wanted to have the whole book be very lush and green with lots of soft undulating shapes and a rolling up and down storyline. When Oliver and Philbert get to the park they are excited to find it empty which seems magical to people living in big cities where parks are usually so crowded. It actually foreshadows the rainstorm to come.

It is a bit unnerving when you arrive somewhere usually crowded and find it totally empty. Or everyone's leaving as you arrive. Makes you wonder what everyone else knows. What is your favorite medium to work with? Your least favorite or hardest?

I love black sumi ink and a large round brush with a nice point. I also just love pencil. I am currently working on making my colors pop more so I’m experimenting with pastels and sticks. I worked as a flash animator for years and so I’d rather not go back to coloring on the computer because it reminds me of work instead of play.

You illustrated three books in 2017. What is the best thing an author can do to help an illustrator? The worst?

Write a great manuscript that will inspire a careful and sensitive reader and then trust the universe and your editor and illustrator to be that. I think it’s important to give readers space to fill in the blanks. The illustrator is a lover of children’s literature and so is the editor. Most helpful to the book would be to start working on a marketing plan while they are working on the pictures.

Thank you! In addition to leaving room for the illustrator, we need to leave room for the reader(s). Many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Picnic with Oliver? Could you share one (or more) with us?

There is a small visual clue to the rainstorm in the scene where the cat is sticking its head out of the window and screaming at Oliver to bring the umbrella. In the top left corner another cat is watching a tv displaying the weather forecast. That cat sticking out of the window is based on my grandmother who loved siamese cats and muumuus with bold prints and the cat watching tv is based on my grandfather. The granny cart and the bagel are staples of the city. The granny cart might be disappearing so I am glad I was able to put it in my book. In fact it is probably the thing that motivated me the most during the writing process.

I missed the weather forecast, I'll have to back a look for it. Any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

I just finished illustrating Jenn Bailey’s A Friend For Henry which follows a boy on the autism spectrum as he tries to make a friend at school. It comes out in Spring 2019 from Chronicle.

I am really excited about this book. Unfortunately, there is no announced cover, yet. Having gone through a few book releases, readings, and school visits, do you have any advice for those just learning their book is to be published? (What will/did you do or try differently this time?)

Always let bookstores know how many people you expect at your book launch so they can have enough copies on hand. Take some time to practice reading your book and test out things. I like to stand. Pause when you read. Also in school visits I think it’s fun to have the kids file past you on their way out so you can say something to each of them or high-five them or give them a give-away. Also wash your hands well after doing that.

I went to a fun public-speaking workshop with Caron Levis recently through SCBWI where I learned a good tip I’m going to try which is if you suddenly find yourself in front of more than 40 kids ask adult volunteers to hold copies of the book and turn the pages while you read so everyone can see the pictures.

Excellent advice. I love the personal interaction with the kids and volunteers to hold the book(s). Thank you, Mika for stopping by and sharing with us. It’s always wonderful to chat with you.

Thanks for having me back, Maria.

Be sure to stop back by Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Picnic with Oliver.

To find out more about Mika Song, or get in touch with her:

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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